Dream Droplets

Dream Droplets is the poetic VR experience I made as my graduation project. The experience focuses on communicating the internal world of Kim through the immersion of VR, visual storytelling, and a poem. I directed it and was the lead artist, so most things are made by me. But I did receive some great help with all the audio, 2D character design of Kim, 3D character rig, and 3D character animation. These elements are only limitedly visible on this page. (I have also taken much inspiration from real-life scenery, events, and others’ creations).

Story process

After sketching a 2D storyboard, I moved to the software Quill VR and Maya to make a 360-degree animatic. I freehandedly designed 3D environments in Quill. This allowed me to easily move around in the VR world, really feel the scale I was creating, and find non-obvious positions to place the audience that told the story clearly.

In Dream Droplets, a big part of the storytelling is that you take on the presence of a rain droplet. Making that believable on its own was quite challenging, but I also wanted to use camera movements because they allow for so many more ways of directing a story. Only people got sick quite easily from them in VR, including me, sadly. Let’s say you would not enjoy watching the blooper reel of my film 🙂 But after many iterations, I am very happy with the physical presence and storytelling in VR.

Please take a moment to appreciate this local cat from Tokushima, they became the inspiration for this project haha.

Directing the eye in VR

What I tried to do was make clear what is important on this 360 canvas. In essence, stylizing to the feeling I wanted to communicate in many ways. An expression in shapes and colors. Details up close like the textures on a leaf and focal points that are refined and sharp. Placing that against more obscure, moody areas, that are painterly and don’t attract your eye. But instead, immerse you into the story through VR presence and an atmosphere to indulge yourself in. Use motion to create easy-to-follow paths along the way, and the main character as a visual guide to confirm you are correct. It sounds very similar to a traditional composition, but in my experience, it was quite different. You might find that if you place your audience in the 360 worlds you create they are interested in everything but miss what you actually wanted to show them.

Art direction

This film is all about daydreaming; it concerns the internal world of the main character, Kim, and how her emotional journey is reflected – and so I felt that a stylized look would help the audience experience this journey along with her. Stylization really allows for artistic expression and was a wonderful fit for the daydreaming theme.

Style development

I explored many ways of creating a stylized look. One study was digital claymation in ZBrush. I basically sculpted every phase of this water creature by hand. My respect for stop-motion artists has grown significantly, since they do this process without using Ctrl-Z, haha.

This technique allowed me to surpass the unconscious association people have with 3D animation. Compared to traditional 2D animation, where you can animate shapes as freely as you can draw, conventional digital 3D animation is kind of bound by rigs, and people associate that with less shape fluidity.

Droplet final

This technique however allowed me free-flowing and controlled geometry, as I can refresh all polygon resolution per phase; this, along with the stylized V-Ray shaders I used, and hand-painted textures with Adobe and Substance, causes a lot of people to ask me if I used 2D animation for this study.

Handpainting textures

The art style of the project perhaps started with people reacting strongly to this orange I created a while back. Because I painted the normal map by hand it seems as if the orange has sub-surface scattering. But no, only painted textures are used. (you can change the lighting with SHIFT+ left click-drag).

I really liked to paint the textures by hand and make use of lookDev technology in a creative way. So I tried to build on top of this orange for my graduation film.

Designing in Quill

Quill was a fun design tool. It allowed me to expressively block out ideas for the environments while being inside them myself. For a painterly art style it’s great I think because I could literally paint geometry and color 🙂 Later on, I modeled the staircase in Maya, import it as a reference into Quill, and painted all the vegetation on top and around it. Starting off with sketching rough 3D lines and blocking in the colors. After that refine the shapes and colors and paint the lighting.

Painting 3D scenes

The free-hand sketching with shape and color really felt like painting in 3D. It worked really well for me, so I painted entire scenes in Quill on top of a base I made in Maya. For the Maya models, I would load the entire environment into Substance, and instead of lighting the scene, I would paint the lighting and textures by hand.


Nick Rutten

Nick Rutten

Dirk Lemmers

Vincent Wongsodjiwo

Auris Media 

WanQing Wang

Robbert-Jan van Ommeren


If you have a VR headset attached to a PC you can experience Dream Droplets yourself!
Send me an email and I can give you the build 🙂 nga_rutten@hotmail.com

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